Slow progress

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Tue 19 Feb 2008 16:21
12:58.11N 42:50.50E

 While in Anfile Bay we were joined by more rally yachts as the days went on.  Others were in nearby anchorages or still further north and waiting for the winds to be more favourable for continuing south.  Reception on VHF was exceptionally good in the afternoons so we were able to keep in touch with most of the others, even though some were around 90 miles away.  We also have a twice daily net using the HF (short wave) radio.  This has much greater range but interference can be a problem (and only a few yachts have HF sets).

Navigator's duties include reef spotting

We kept busy with regular get-togethers ashore and the unending battle with weed growth on the hull.  Finally we left a week ago with only light headwinds to confront.  These tend to build up during the afternoon and evening, then drop off in the early hours of the morning.  During the day we motorsailed to make as much headway as possible until the winds were strong enough to sail and allow us to make reasonable progress without burning any diesel. 

Tacking inshore to avoid current - night-time navigation aided by computer

We had to keep inshore to avoid the adverse current and with luck (and bravery!) to benefit from counter currents.  Sometimes we had enough east in the wind to allow us to sail longer legs on port tack, but progress was slow.  Since leaving Suakin in Sudan we have not been able to re-fuel so we've had to make decisions over when to use the motor and when not.

After 36 hours we were only making slow progress tacking to windward so we decided to stop at Mersa Dudo, where another 2 rally yachts were already anchored.  This is a spectacular anchorage under the crater of a volcano and surrounded by lava fields.  We would have loved to have spent longer there but after a good night's rest we set off at dawn on Thursday, our 27th wedding anniversary!

The anchorage at Mersa Dudo

The next 36 hours were more taxing.  The wind strengthened during the morning so we were able to make steady if slow progress to windward under sail.  By the evening the wind reached Force 7 for a few hours and then dropped off again during the early hours.  We're out of practice sailing to windward and sail changing during the night is always hard.  In the morning the wind had dropped again so we motorsailed;  no chance to relax however as our electric autopilot blew up!  We eventually passed the port of Assab reaching a nearby island anchorage in the early afternoon. 

Staying inshore was not as difficult as it would be further north.  The offlying hazards in this part of the Red Sea are few and we were able to enjoy the scenery along the way.  The days have been sunny and temperatures in the high 20s C but there is generally enough wind to keep cool.  We are passing down the coast of one of the hottest and most inaccessible places on earth, the Danakil.  The scenery is often very beautiful, with mangroves onshore and sculpted sandunes in places.

Islands just offshore

Spectacular  coast of southern Eritrea

Volcanic formations just north of Aseb

The sea is teaming with fish and when not feeding the seabirds keep us company.  Occasionally we see a coastal patrol boat.  These are open boats powered by outboard motors and usually have 3 or more men inside.   They sometimes like to check yacht's papers but the only one that came really close to us asked (politely) for food and drink.  We gave them some biscuits and a bottle of water and they were very happy.

We're in another beautiful spot and we had a peaceful time here until the next day when 11 other rally yachts joined us, including Mistral.  Paul set about investigating the problem with the wheel pilot and soon was on the satphone seeking a replacement.  We're now expecting to get one sent to Aden and with the help of Sepia, who are already there, have made the necessary arrangements.   In the meantime we will have to manage without.

Our mornings are busy: Paul has become the rally weather "frog".  Only some of the yachts have a satphone and we find ours indispensible for downloading weather "grib files" every morning.   Once processed, Paul broadcasts the information to the other yachts on the HF and VHF at agreed times.   The HF radio uses a lot of power so we have to wait until after then to start the watermaker which also uses a lot of power but needs to be run about an hour each day to keep our freshwater stocks up.

Again waiting for strong winds to subside we are well looked after in this lovely spot.  The pelicans and mansized grey herons that feed on the fish at low tide don't seem to mind us being here.  The local fishermen are happy to provide us with fresh fish of all kinds (shark, tuna, king mackerel, large sole/halibut, crabs, etc) and even help us light fires for the barbecue.  We are very low on fresh vegetables but living very well from our on-board stores, making fresh bread and every few days.

Fishing craft out of Aseb

Tomorrow is the day we've been waiting for when the forecast shows favourable winds so we expect to leave in the morning and reach Bab El Mandeb, the straits at the southern end of the Red Sea, by the evening.  The Gulf of Aden beckons at last!